Tuesday, January 31, 2006

3rd Annual State Of The Union Address Drinking Game!

That's right, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the State of the Union Address, this year's dog-and-pony show by the POTUS, and we're all ready over at the Collective for a little bit of the old tying one or two or perhaps three on! If you're watching at home, with a bunch of people, you too can use these rules to drink along with the President!

Here's the mechanics: At 8:30, once people have arrived, guests stand for each Ministry position. Anyone who is democratically elected to each position gets a little card and follows along with the speech, listening for the clues that will tell the other people at the party (including the other Ministers, of course) when to drink!

Here's the set of verbal and visual cues, with each Ministry:

Minister of Civil Rights
“Alito” – 1 drink
Roe vs. Wade – 1 drink
Overturning Roe v. Wade – 2 drinks
“Non-transparent government” – 1 drink
Defends with “national security” – 1 drink
The NSA program is “is fully consistent with our nation's laws and
Constitution” – 1 drink
“I’ll continue to authorize them” in a way clearly inconsistent with FISA –
2 drinks
“If Al Qaeda is calling you, we want to know why.” – 3 drinks

Minister of Taste
“The State of Our Union is Strong” – 1 drink
Introduces a wife of a soldier fighting in Iraq – 1 drink
Introduces a widow of a soldier who died fighting in Iraq – 2 drinks
Introduces a mother of soldiers in Iraq – 1 drink/kid in the armed forces
Wears a red and blue tie over a white shirt – 1 drink
“9/11” – 1 drink
Makes up a new word – 1 drink
Refers to a staffer/Congressman by a pet name (Brownie, etc) – 1 drink
“Halliburton” – 1 drink
Any company really – 1 drink

Minister of Faggotry
“Marriage under attack” – 1 drink
“Successfully fought off attacks against marriage” – 2 drinks
“Activist Judges” – 1 drink

Minister of Health
“Our changes to Medicare are a success” – 1 drink
“Ownership society” – 1 drink
“Health Savings Accounts” – 1 drink
“Healthcare Affordability Crisis” – 1 drink
Call for reforms to reduce judgements in malpractice suits – 1 drink

Minister of War
“September 11, 2001” – 1 drink
“Axis of Evil” – 1 drink
“Iraqi Elections” – 1 drink
“Hamas” – 1 drink
“We will not deal with Palestine” – 2 drinks
“No deals with terrorists” – 1 drink
“No deals with terrorists – including Hamas” – 3 drinks
“Iran cannot gain Nuclear weapons” – 1 drink
“World must unite to prevent” – 1 drink
“The family of nations” – 1 drink
“Terrorist” – 1 drink

Minister of Incredibly Expensive Projects
Any new program announced that will cost more that 50 million dollars:
1 drink
Any new program announced that will cost more than 50 billion dollars:
2 drinks
(These double if he talks about cutting taxes beforehand)
“The Mars Program” – 1 drink
Medicare Prescription Program – 1 drink

Minister of Energy
“Energy Freedom Act” – 1 drink
“Non-renewable sources” in a negative light – 1 drink
“Non-renewable sources” in a positive light – 2 drinks
Expand nuclear energy – 1 drink
Acquire and reprocess spent fuel from other nations – 2 drinks
“Let the oil companies show us the way to renewable sources” – 4 drinks
“Enron” – 1 drink

Minister of Oh My God What Now?
“We are Currently Bombing Iran” – Finish Drinks
“We are Temporarily Suspending Elections” – Finish Drinks
“I am placing legislation before Congress to illegalize abortion” – Finish Drinks
“We are reinstating the draft” – Finish Drinks

That's it! Have fun! Drink up while you still can! One day, our right to drink while watching the State O' The Union will be eroded along with everything else, so do it while you still can!

I Shouldn't Be As Upset About This As I Am.

A good long time ago, a friend posited to me that all the bad news that you see is actually a good thing. As long as the news was bad, she said, it meant that bad news is the exception and that everything else was good. But when the news starts focussing on good things, that means that good things are the exception, not the rule.

Now, I know that you can find everything on the Interweb. But this disturbs me far more than anything else that I've seen recently. Even more than goatse. Even more than that video with the man and the horse. Because if we have to have the site "happynews.com," it means that we have started to slide over to the point where good things happening are beginning to lose their precedence in the status quo to the bad things that are happening. Which means, I guess, that one day soon the earth is going to stop spinning suddenly and we're all going to be flung into the vacuum of outer space to die of asphyxiation. And we won't even care that much. Why? Because we'll be so accustomed to the bad things that have happened every day that we'll just keep on looking at happynews.com.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Drizzt Gains a Level!

The Crystal Shard
The Icewind Dale Trilogy, Book I
R.A. Salvatore
TSR Publications, 1988

Scale (-12:12)

Is poking fun at a "Forgotten Realms" book shooting fish in a barrel? Is it beneath Elfstar Industries? Maybe it is, maybe it is. But. At the same time. Look at that picture of the cover. This is a New York Times bestselling author. Maybe someone has to take a closer peek. And maybe that person is Elfstar Industries.

Now, the backstory: I loved this book when I was in high school. That was around when it was published. Now, I do not love this book. This book came out of a box that was well-hidden in my mom's attic. It came home to my house when my mom made me get all my crap out of said attic (awww, mah, do I have to?) with plenty of other lousy books, all of which I had no intention of re/reading. But then my housemate--it was his week to be the evil one--pulled it out of a box and decided it was time. So I got to read it too.

By the "about the author" page, Monsieur Salvatore was a humble CS major in college until he recieved the Lord of the Rings trilogy as a "Christman" [sic] gift, at which point he changed his major to journalism. You can tell by the writing. Not by the quality of the writing, mind, but by some of the place names he decides on. Such as the crystal tower "Cryshal Tirith," no relation to Minas Tirith at all.

The Crystal Shard, in many ways, is not actually related to the Lord of the Rings, however. It is more the spiritual successor of books such as the Conan series, the Gor series, and some of Edgar Rice Burrough's lesser-known works, especially the Pellucidar books. There's a good possibility that this is because Salvatore is writing in a "shared universe," in this case the Forgotten Realms. Please note how this last link owes a lot to the movie versions of Lord of the Rings.

Salvatore might not be a bad writer. I think he is, mind you, but he might not be. When you're writing in one of these, you're excessively limited. The best example of this that I can think of is Janet Kagan's book "Uhuru's Song." Obviously enough, it's a Star Trek novel. Her other two books, "Mirabile" and "Hellspark," are fantastic SF reads, and you should go get them. "Uhuru's Song," well, it's a, well, Star Trek novel. Even good writers suffer when writing in shared universes.

Anyway. "The Crystal Shard" follows the adventures of the Manly Wulfgar, the barbarian about-to-be-king, the Dwarfly Bruenor, son of the uncle of the cousin of the Lord of the Lost Mithril Hall, the Elfly Elfstar Drizzt Do'Urden, and the HalfManly Halfling (read Hobbit) Regis. The book is split into rough thirds, and each bit focuses on a specific series of events. I'd like to take a moment to say that this is the first book I've ever read that contained three epilogues. And two of them are in the center of the text.

There are constant themes running through the text. Drizzt, the Drow (Dark Elf), is a Good Guy. He Likes people. Yet, people are prejudiced against him, often not believing what he says. Why, we should take a lesson from this, right? Prejudice is bad! Except. People don't believe Drizzt because, in this particular shared universe, Dark Elves are bastards. I mean, really, they're Dark Elves. Their name has a capital-Dark in it! A favorite D & bloody-well D adventure is to go lay the smackdown on Dark Elves! They're jerks! Cutthroats! Even Salvatore, in one line in the text, says that Drizzt is the only good one. So, duh, yeah, people are prejudiced against him. It's like if you met a member of the Bush family, and he was all sortsa generous with charities, you wouldn't buy it right off the bat, cause he's a Bush! So, the point here is that as far as social value goes, this book is crap.

There are some other problems. Even in most BEM SF people don't really use the word "monster" too often. Salvatore throws it around like it's going out of style. [Ed. Note: It has gone out of style.] The language is far more stilted than necessary; it occasionally feels like one of those Uncle Sams on Stilts that show up at parades in movies. (Has anyone ever seen one of those in person? I haven't.)

The book moves too quickly. Three pages to deal with a dragon. Two pages to deal with a demon. Two pages to make the greatest warhammer the world has ever seen. One page to beat down a barbarian king. You get the point.

And then there's the coincedental nature of the whole thing. The dragon (three pages) just happens to have in his horde an anti-demon scimitar, which is the type of weapon that Drizzt just happens to use, and there just happens to be a demon (two pages) on its way. It's all just so very... easy. Too easy. Even when he makes it seem difficult, you know everyone is going to survive.

This book sucks. I hate to put it into these terms, but it just does. I whimpered a few times, and never laughed once. But before I go, I'd like to end this review with my least favorite line from the book: "Drizzt seemed able to weigh every move he ever made in the scales of high adventure and indisputable morals." What kind of scales are those? Someone draw me a picture please?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Maybe the World Ain't That Bad.

Just when I think the world is screwed, something shows up that makes it all better.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

This Wheat That This Bread is Made From Was Grown at an Angle Normal to Sea Level.

X-treme Wheat Bread
Stroehman's Bakeries
Stroehman, 2005

Scale: (-12:12)

Extremely Delicious! Absolutley Delicious!

Look, what can I say about X-treme Wheat Bread? You're gonna look at that picture up top and say, "Elfstar, why did you even buy that?" And you'd be right. Because, well, it's gonna be gross. At the very same time, it was 50% off at the A&P, and it is my responsibility to tell you what is what in consumer culture. Otherwise, I wouldn't be Elfstar.

So first: The Packaging. There's graphs on the back comparing this bread and Stroehman's normal breads. Good. It's nutritious. Excellent. There's also this crappy gold-foil plastic around it. Between the gold foil and the name, it was enough for me to buy. There's also a gymnast, and a footballer. It's an ugly disgrace to graphic design, this bag is. What happened to good graphic design on containers? I want to know. I do.

So, before we get to taste, there's something you need to know: on the way home with this travesty of bread, my shoulder bag (read man-purse) broke. So the bread got crushed. "Elfstar," you're going to say, "How can you review crushed bread fairly?" I know, I know. I was crushed too. But, here's the really scary thing: have you ever heard of memory plastics? Well, this here is memory bread. That's right. Leave it alone for a night after you've crushed it bringing it home, and it springs back into its previous shape. Which explains my stomachache after eating it.

So, the taste and the texture. The texture is remarkably like that of other white breads. Except that this is wheat bread. It has a little more tooth than, say, WonderBread but not nearly the right tooth to be wheat bread. Not too spongy, it isn't, but it sure ain't what you want. The taste, well, you can taste the added vitamins, especially in the crust. The crust, if you're paying attention and hate everything, has a slight lactic acid flavor, which I assume was vitamin C or something that broke down during the cooking process. The taste was remarkably like white bread.

So why the low rating? I don't like my bread to taste like a provision beer. That was nast. Also, white bread's bad enough to begin with, why add the taste of lactic acid? And did you see that packagaing? -4.1 all around.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Look at Me! I'm a Freakin' Werewolf!

The Silver Wolf
Alice Borchardt
1998, Balantine

Scale (-12:+12)

While the book, to its' credit, never uses the word werewolf to describe the main character, "The Silver Wolf" is indeed the chronicle of a werewolf-noble-young girl trying to deal with the intrigues of Dark Ages Rome and navigate the uncertainties of an arranged marriage all at the same time. While the book is not entirely bad, there are several large problems with it.

When I picked up the book, I had no ideas, preconceptions, whatever. So the first thing I was greeted with on the cover was a blurb by Anne Rice telling me how much I'd like the book. Well, that's fine, I don't like Rice that much anyhow, so that's not going to color my opinion too much.

Problem is, it turns out that Rice is Borchardt's sister.

Riding on your sister's coattails to help get your first book published? Fine. No, really. Fine. I'm okay with that. I can't help but find it disingenuous, however, for the publisher to be putting a blurb by the author's sister on the front cover of the book. I mean, what else is Rice going to say? That the book sucks? Of course not. She's going to say that Borchardt is "A daring and vibrant new voice on the female literary frontier..." etc. (Quote comes from aforementioned front cover.)

So, I can't help feeling manipulated. "The Silver Wolf" had a higher rating--not much, mind you, but it was in the positives--before I started feeling like the publishing company was trying to manipulate me into liking the book.

Since I'm riding on the cover already, I'll keep going: a crappy photomosaic of a VERY modern looking girl (the sculpted eyebrows really threw me for a loop) interposed behind a wolf, all in black and white, except for the yellow eyes on both of them? Please. This is a bad, bad cover, and one which someone should have gotten some shit for. Why is it bad? It's not compelling. It doesn't make me want to pick up the book.

That's enough with the cover, avanti! Onto the book itself! The writing is mostly tight. My main complaints with the writing are the a) overuse of b) overused adjectives. Seriously, can't we describe the sea as something other than wine-dark? I never, ever want any author to use that again. I mean, that particular description was more-or-less overused by Homer, and it hasn't gotten less overused through other authors cribbing it. Plus, hasn't anyone noticed that it isn't all that great a description? The sea is blue down in the south and gray up in the north. If every sea was wine-dark there would be a hell of a lot more sommeliers being fired from French restaurants, let me tell you.

I thouroughly enjoyed the setting of the book. I make no claim to expertise in the Rome of the Dark Ages, but from what I do know Borchardt seems to have done a good job of describing both the physical and social nature of the city.

The characters are mostly well-developed. There's a fair amount of cliche character archetypes used, but while they do develop along lines that are expected character trajectories, they do develop as the story goes along. Most characters don't stay too two-dimensional as the book moves.

But, then, there are the other problems. You want to use the Pope as a character? Fine, do so. But really, make him actually Pope-like. Hell, make him seem like a Christian. Seriously, the Pope is one step removed from walking down to a stone circle and sacrificing a goat to Ares. If you were to give him a knife and pushed him towards a sheep I shudder to think what would have happened.

The poor, poor sheep.

We've also got some problems with character consistency. The first time we see Regeane's future husband, he's a minor lord who worries too much. By the end of the book, not only has he not worried once since the first chapter, but he's also a 900 year old werewolf. Who I would not expect to ever see worrying about the hay harvest, let me tell you. After 900 years, one would expect him to have gotten a little past worrying about one year's hay harvest.

There's also a leetle bit too much coincidence in the book for my taste. The main character is a werewolf? Good. I like it. Let's do it. Her intended husband is also a werewolf? Drop dead. Doesn't stick to the wall, my friends. Just doesn't stick.


Please God, no more fantasy about King Arthur.

Especially not werewolf fantasy about King Arthur. *shudder*

I have three more complaints about the book: one, the pages and pages and pages about what all the food was cooked in and spiced with was more than enough. I'm a cook and I was annoyed by the end of it.

Two, sage flowers are purple, not scarlet, as seen here, here, here, and here, with the exception of some varieties of lemon sage, which are both uncommon and not native to Europe. Now, I have lemon sage in my garden and when I let it bolt, it blooms purple. So there. This wouldn't be so big a deal if there were not two descriptions of sage bushes in the book, one of which had purple flowers and one of which had scarlet flowers. If she'd kept it consistent, that would've been fine, but, well, she didn't.

Finally, a complaint about the ending. There are things that you just do not need to do as an author. A trial-by-champion climax is a fine, fine way to end a book. In fact, it's plenty. You don't need to go any past that, such as having the main character be close to being set on fire. The threat of fire is enough, but having the fire be an actuality is simply unneccessary. I cannot think that one person, while reading the climax, would have thought, "Gee, this is great, but what it really needs is more fire!"

In short: "The Silver Wolf" is one of those rare books that starts off strong and gets progressively worse and worse as it continues. Well, I say rare, even though that pretty much sums up Stephen King's entire bibliography. Anyway, asides aside, as Borchardt raises the stakes of the plot, it gets progressively sillier and sillier. Which is a shame--it could have been a much more interesting book and wound up making me laugh out loud.

It's bad enough when a book is bad to begin with. It's much worse when the author screws it up in the middle.

A Little Note, Perhaps, On The Rating System

Here at Elfstar Industries, LLC, we are committed to presenting to you the absolute best in reviews of the worst things in life. As such, we have developed a scientifically accurate rating system based on the newest algorithmic expressions of badness and goodness in the newly-approaching global monoculture. This rating system is proprietary to Elfstar Industries, LLC, and will not be found on any other sources on the Interweb.

The way the rating system works is thus: some (read lazy) critics will give you a scale of 1-5, or 1-10, to describe the quality of a particular book, or movie, or beer, or bizzarre food item. No, we will not be doing that. Instead, the ratings system will stretch from -12 to +12. Not, of course, that just anything can merit a score of -12 or +12; these are reserved for God and Satan themselves. Place them at either end of the scale that you desire, we're not picky.

But what can possibly stand next to God and Satan? Can something that bad actually be found? The chances that something will be scored at -11 or +11 is unlikely, as there's always something worse, and then where will we stand? The potential for corporate scandal and embarrasment always exists.

Now, how, you may ask, do we calibrate this scale? Well, let's take the beer example, if we may be so bold. For in beer is the best calibration of the scale found: A perfect zero is Budweiser. Why, you may ask? Well, we here at Elfstar Industries, LLC, are happy to tell you why. Budweiser is bland, but not watery. Well, not that watery. Budweiser is inoffensive. Budweiser is consistent - when you ask for one, you know what you're getting. And you can drink it all night long. You might not like drinking it that much, but it's not actively offensive. It doesn't curdle the milk in your Cheerios.

Expand that to books, and to movies, and whatever else, and you'll soon see why our rating scale is the best.